One week later, Mark starts school for the first time. It takes some convincing for Roger to put the five-year-old in his kindergarten class and assure him that nobody bites, but after a while Mark finds himself engrossed enough in the crayons for Roger, Maureen, Collins, Benny, and Angel to casually slip out the door. It is an hour later when Mark notices that his famly has left, but by that time there are cookies.
In kindergarten one day, Mark is asked to draw a picture of his family and present it to the class, along with an explanation as to who each figure is. He begins by drawing a little blue person with yellow lines sticking out of his head. Next to him is a green figure, curly yellow hair draped from his head and an oddly-positioned triangle beside it that may be a guitar.
On Mark's other side is a purple figure, probably Cindy, with long blonde lines running down from her head. Beside her is the dark-haired Angel beside dark-skinned Collins, hands touching one another's and eyes huge as they try to meet each other's eyes.
Next to Roger is Maureen, orange and brown squiggles decorating the top of her hair and shimmying down to her shoulders. She stands beside Benny, and on his other side is Mimi, who has an enormous smile that matches Angel's. On Mark's face are his brand-new glasses, purchased by a delighted Collins immediately after being told that he landed a last-minute teaching job at Columbia University.
When Mark shows his drawing to the class, he is tentative at first. ("Um, hi, this is me, right here, and this is my family. The green one is Roger, he's my daddy, and so is Benny and Collins, the two guys with the brown faces'n stuff. My mommies are Mimi and Maureen and Angel – Angel's next to Collins'n Mimi and Maureen's next to Benny. My sister's Cindy, she's the purple one right there.) After all, it is decidedly difficult to follow Billy Jefferson's presentation, featuring three children, one mommy, and one daddy. (Mark's comments on Billy's family: "That's weird.") But soon enough he is comfortable, and the applause following his presentation is particularly energetic from his classmates, all of whom believe that it is quite something for a kid to have so many mommies and daddies.
When Hanukkah rolls around, Cindy has a hurried conversation with Maureen and Roger about how the holiday was never celebrated in the Cohen household, and that they shouldn't to the trouble of celebrating it. A compromise is made: although Hanukkah is not observed, and Christmas does not intersect with it at all because Hanukkah begins on December the fourth, eight candles are lit on the twenty-fourth of December and strung on the Christmas tree. Cindy smiles, satisfied, and decides not to explain Hanukkah to Mark just yet.
Presents? Yes, presents. With Collins, Maureen, Benny and Mimi holding steady jobs and Angel street-performing, enough income is brought in for everyone to purchase presents for just about everyone. Essentially, each bohemian lays some money on the kitchen table on the last shopping day before Christmas, and all who still need to purchase gifts subtly take as much as they need and go buy them. Amid many other presents, Mark's favorite gift – from Roger, of course – is a blue and white scarf that drapes around his neck and brushes the floor. He doesn't mind that it's too big. He is assured that he will grow into it.
Time passes. The children are still stable, growing up with the best role models, guardians, and parental figures imaginable. On Mother's Day, Mark and Cindy present Maureen, Angel, and Mimi with cards declaring their love, and on Father's Day, Roger and Collins and Benny receive cards and presents as well. July the fourth is celebrated with the eight bohemians lying on the roof, squinting to see the fireworks displays at nearby parks. Never would they even consider actually going to one of the parks, because after all, that's where all the tourists go. Roger knows that with two kids and an extended group of friends in their early-to-mid twenties, he is sure to look like a tourist in any untypical but publicized New York scenario. So he is slightly self-conscious in that respect.
School starts again. This time Mark is in first grade, and he learns how to write and read and add small numbers like three and four to equal slightly bigger numbers like seven. Cindy, in tenth grade now, is taught things surprisingly similar to Mark's own learnings, except that the books she reads are much thicker, with fading covers and memorable titles like Brave New World. (Sitting on one of the loft's many shelves is a school copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, passed among the bohemians and waiting until Mark is old enough to understand it. The book will never return to the school, which is perfectly fine, because by tenth grade most people have read it anyway.)
Two years later, when Mark is seven and Cindy fifteen, Benny breaks up with his girlfriend Alison. He nearly immediately afterward begins a relationship with Maureen, which is surprisingly stable. As though doing her best – Maureen? Doing her best? – Maureen stops ogling passing individuals of either sex, which Benny takes as a good sign. He takes it as a bad sign that Maureen elects to attend Cindy's parent-teacher conference (scheduled to last from eight-thirteen to eight-seventeen) and stays until eleven. Cindy later tells Benny confidentially that the teacher in question came to class the next day with a much brighter attitude than in days past.
But in spite of a few minor roadblocks, such as Benny and Maureen's heated on-and-off relationship where each day is either a break-up, a reunion, or both, life rolls on. Mark brings home glowing progress reports and papers stamped with A-plusses. Cindy, though occasionally returning to the loft with inexplicable tangles in her hair and bruised lips, flourishes in school as well.
It is Cindy's romantic progress that concerns Maureen, and so she and Mimi take the young adolescent aside for a brief talk while nearly-eight-year-old Mark sits with Benny and Roger, shifting in his seat as he is taught about girls. At eight, Mark has no idea why anyone would have an interest in girls, and thinks that maybe Angel and Maureen and Mimi have it right, picking out males instead. The again, Mark thinks to himself, they're girls. Except then there was that time he accidentally walked in on Angel in the shower…
Growing steadily more confused, a ten-year-old Mark seeks out Collins at last for some answers. He enters the room utterly bewildered and exits much the same way, save for the fact that upon his exit, his eyes are wide and his hand rests over a particular organ, staring down in shock.
When Mark is almost eleven, Roger decides that Mark needs a hobby. A passion, in fact. According to Roger, everyone has a passion, and if Mark is an exception, it means that he is a yuppie. ("Roger," jokes Collins from across the room, "don't swear around the kid.") So as Roger and Mark run around the city in search of something Mark can love, Collins sits with Cindy and helps her look through potential colleges. Her high school grades are such that she should, he tells her, get admitted to Columbia if that is her desired route. Cindy tells him in no uncertain terms that of course she will apply, and if "by some miracle" she is admitted, she would like nothing more than to be in Collins' class. They hug, and that is that. The applications go out the following week.
At around the same time that Collins returns from Columbia with an envelope in his hand (addressed, of course, to Cindy Davis-Johnson-Schunard-Coffin-Collins), Mark and Roger return from their search with empty pockets but with a sparkling box in Mark's hands. "You open it first," Mark tells his sister, but her fingers are trembling, and so the envelope is handed to Angel, whose nails are the longest and who contributed greatly to the writing of Cindy's entrance essay.
But nobody is so bold as to unfold the paper inside, so it is set upside-down on the table as Mark opens the box and reveals a shiny camera, probably twenty years old but still enough to captivate the eleven-year-old's attention. As he shows the different capabilities of the camera – apparantly it can film and take still shots – Cindy's eyes flicker back to her letter. Mark, catching the hint, switches the camera onto the option to videograph, and zooms in on the single page.
Could it be anything else?
As he films the celebration that follows, Mark feels a shivery feeling that probably relates either to his excitement at having the camera or his nerves at knowing that there are only about seven years left until he has the same burden to bear. It is with that new burst of enthusiasm that he returns to school that coming Monday and aces three tests and hands in every expected piece of homework. His next report card is glowing.
Eight people in the loft proves to be a bit much, so two months before the start of Cindy's freshman year of college, Collins accepts Columbia's offer for university housing at last, taking Angel and Cindy with him. It is, after all, only uptown; visits occur nightly, and Mark's eleventh birthday coincides with permission to take public transportation by himself. So he does, in fact, visiting Cindy, Angel and Collins whenever he has a spare second.
With a new feverish passion in film, Mark does not put his camera down for more than a single waking hour that does not take place in school. Although electronics are banned from Simon Baruch Junior High School, Mark takes no notice, and remains one of the many seventh-graders bringing a forbidden item into the building daily. At least, however, it is not a cell phone; the avant-garde new commodity has become wildly popular, and a few of Mark's wealthier classmates have taken to bringing their parents' devices of mobile communications to school. In Mark's case, his contraband has meaning to him, and even when the teachers catch flashes of the camera and camera bag hidden in Mark's shoulder-bag, they cannot muster up the cruelty required to confiscate it.
Eighth-graders in New York City are required to apply to one of the city's hundreds of high schools. The high schools come in all different kinds; there are those that focus on science and are reknowned throughout the country, those that appear to be relatively normal and very typical of non-New York areas, and those that focus on arts. It is the latter type, of course, that interests Mark, and so he very wisely fills up his twelve choices with schools with an emphasis on things such as visual arts, photography – of course – and music. His guardians are tremendously proud of the not-so-much-a-five-year-old-anymore, although they all swear that they would have supported Mark even had he pursued a different option. (Whether this is true or not remains to be seen.)
Now with Mark having been twelve for five months and nearing the deadline for a Bar Mitzvah, Benny asks Mark if he would be interested in pursuing that particular route. Mark, who has grown up an incredible amount since the age of five, decisively replies in the negative and points out that it's not as though he had any friends who would want to go anyway. "Just wait 'till high school," Benny tells the boy, although he does suspect that high school may turn out to be even worse for him.
Cindy graduates from college precisely one month prior to Mark's graduation of junior high school, and on that day, the eight bohemians go out drinking – Mark is smuggled in with the group because admittedly, of the two Davis-Johnson-Schunard-Coffin-Collins children, Mark certainly looks older, and Cindy is, after all, twenty-one. Although her birthday was nearly a full year ago, Cindy does not hesitate to look the bartender in the eye, smiling seductively, and ask for what she claims is her "first alcoholic drink – let's make it a whiskey sour." She gives Mark several sips, and the thirteen-year-old proves to be a very easy drunk, needing to be carried home by a slightly agitated Benny that night.
Since Cindy has graduated, she moves back into the loft with two new, very obvious presences. One is her boyfriend Brad, a very anarchistic law school student – how's that for an oxymoron? – and the other is her degree in philosophy. Collins, now living back with the bohemians as well, often spends hours in Cindy's room, staring at her diploma and wondering what happened to the thirteen-year-old with no decided path in life? Nothing at all, in fact; even though Cindy is eight years older now, she has the same skeptical eyes as she scans the world and wonders if she will ever find her niche.
The next four years are relatively uneventful. The most startling event that takes place during that time is Cindy's marriage to the now-lawyer Brad, who is proud to have not given up his principles and remains a fan of the breaking-the-meter trick. He yearns for a position at Prewett & Hopkins, who is looking for a new partner in the absence of former lawyer Joanne Jefferson, now a waitress at a nearby café. (Rumor has it that Jefferson is known to commonly mutter to herself, "Where did I go wrong?" at random times, eyes wide and hands clasped together in puzzlement.)
When Mark graduates from high school, he spends the evening reminscing. At around midnight, he turns on all the lights in the loft and announces, "Everyone in the living room – now." (Roger cannot help but recall the nervous lisp of five-year-old Mark Cohen and is startled to find that there is no trace of that voice in seventeen-year-old Mark Davis-Johnson-Schunard-Coffin-Collins. It is certainly an improvement, however, because a decisive, assertive late adolescent is always more appreciated than five-year-old, no matter how cute he is. Certainly is the seventeen-year-old more appreciated by New York University, Mark's destination for the coming fall, to study film and remain comfortably in the loft.)
As Mark's seven – eight, including the nearly-unconscious Brad – loftmates pile onto couches and the floor, he sets up his camera and explains, "This is a film taken over the course of almost seven years." As a picture flickers onto the screen, it blares the words Little Man on top, and on the line underneath, A Mark Davis-Johnson-Schunard-Coffin-Collins Film.
"This was the film you sent to NYU," Cindy realizes when the camera angling and styles prove to be the best she has ever seen on Mark's work. "Isn't it?"
"Yeah," Mark replies, and his mouth hangs slightly open. He was going to say something more, but forgets what it was as a single photograph appears on the screen, a still shot inserted into the footage. It is a picture of five-year-old Mark held by Roger, Benny and Collins and Maureen stationed nearby with thirteen-year-old smart-aleck Cindy hanging off to the side next to Angel.
Roger is just as transfixed by this picture as Mark is, and he breathes, "They took this at the trial."
Mark nods. "Yeah. This was what they put in the newspaper, remember?"
Angel, spotting the very masculine, yuppie-style outfit worn by her in the photograph, wrinkles her nose. Before she can critize her own getup, however, she lets the thought go and admits, "It's cute. It's adorable. I love it."
"You're not the only one," Maureen assures her, and she is followed by a chorus of mumbled agreement.
The final picture in the movie is live footage that features very little movement. It was filmed by Brad that very evening, and very swiftly inserted into the footage. In the picture, Mark has on his graduation cap, jeans, and a red-and-blue striped sweater, with his scarf hanging around his neck – the very scarf, in fact, that was given to him on the first Christmas he celebrated among the bohemians. Behind him is a beaming Roger, and on his either side are Angel and Cindy. Beside Angel, of course, is Collins. On Collins' other side is Maureen, and next to Cindy are Benny and Mimi. Everyone is smiling broadly.
When the picture is turned off, Roger stands up abruptly and motions for Mark to come over to him. Mark does so, and is surprised when Roger fiercely gives Mark a huge hug.
It is nothing at all like the hugs Mark has received from Roger in the past. Since Mark turned about ten, every hug Roger bestowed upon Mark was friendly and very masculine, usually one-armed and brief. Now, however, Mark is brought back to his early childhood as Roger squeezes the newly-graduated seventeen-year-old tightly. Mark hugs back, of course, his arms squeezing Roger as tight as he can. "I love you," Roger tells his "son," and releases Mark momentarily to give the graduate a kiss on the forehead.
"I love you too," Mark says.
Hugs go around the room, featuring everyone. Cindy stands off to the side, clutching Mark's camera in her hands and knowing that even though Mark is far too preoccupied to make any kind of comment, the boy surely would want this to be on film. So the hug-fest is documented.
When at last Mark collapses on the couch to sleep until maybe three the next day, he proclaims, "I love everyone. Everyone. I love everyone here so, so much," he says.
Nobody is surprised when in the afternoon of the next day, Mark wakes up without a familiar headache or bottles scattered on the floor. He spends a good twenty minutes peering out the window, gazing in awe at the familiar sidewalk square where he first met Roger.
Nobody, Mark decides – Nobody at NYU has a family like this.